Undergraduate dance and theater students joined dance master's degree candidates Stacey Carlson and Christine Hands in the performances of their works last weekend in the Fall MFA Dance Thesis Concert. Carlson’s dwelling and Hands’ Hamlet were the culminations of multiple semesters worth of research, experimentation and rehearsals.

Carlson and her five performers explored the concept of home through her multidisciplinary production. Carlson began her piece by skipping and dancing around within a small brown house. She decorated the Kogod Theatre stage with a mat, a patch of grass, paper roses and a “Home Sweet Home” sign. She created a light, happy ambiance that was interrupted with a violent crash of electronic music, followed by a somber violin.

Carlson incorporated elements from her extensive circus background into her concert, like aerial dance. Her impressive balance, hanging above the stage, shocked audience members.

Unlike the cheery beginning, dwelling lived in a mysterious, dark world. Performers emerged from behind panels wearing carefully crafted animal masks, transporting the audience into an unfamiliar realm. As the performers moved the panels, different lighting and projections created an intriguing visual of the new world.

Dwelling explored both the obvious and abstract connotations of home. Given the universality of her subject, a range of audience members could find meaning in her thesis.

“I didn’t know it was going to turn out the way it did,” said dwelling performer Miejo Dambita.

“I was dead tired…[but] I was content,” Dambita said after her third and final performance of the weekend.

Hamlet followed dwelling as the second piece of the evening. The aggression and power Hands and her performers embodied was a complete contrast.

The Shakespearean classic offered the audience an entry point into her dance theater piece, an art form that can seem unusual to those who are unfamiliar with it. Hands’ Hamlet flowed through a structure similar to the original play but set in a dystopian future, allowing the audience to follow a resemblance of the plot. Still, she encouraged viewers to draw their own conclusions about the abstractions they were watching.

The performers’ strong commitments to both Hands’ highly physical choreography and the text she selected further guided viewers. Each of the five performers made the highly emotional work appear genuine through their moving, speaking and even breathing.

Hands incorporated both line-by-line recitations from the play and manipulations of the text. She modified the iconic, easily recognizable phrase “to be or not to be” into “to, not to.”

Like dwelling, Hands transported the audience into a new dark world. The only break from the dim lights was a single bright moment at the very end of the performance. As audience members entered the Kogod Theatre before the show began, they were encouraged to draw, write or color whatever came to mind when thinking of dwelling and Hamlet. While the scroll was decorated in color, both pieces were almost entirely executed in darkness.